Preeclampsia may signal future heart problems in women
In expectant mothers, preeclampsia results in high blood pressure and increased levels of protein in the urine. In some severe cases, preeclampsia can lead to eclampsia (seizures) and an increased risk of death.
Physicians have known about eclampsia for many centuries though its direct cause is unknown. According to the National Institutes of Health, the only cure for a mother-to-be remains delivery of her baby. In some serious cases, an early delivery, at times requiring Cesarean section, may be recommended, despite the health risks of a premature birth for the baby.
While preeclampsia resolves after delivery, research has found it has long-term health consequences.
“Women with a history of preeclampsia have a two- to four-fold increase in the risk of developing hypertension (high blood pressure) and ischemic heart disease later in life,” said Irina Staicu, M.D. a cardiologist at Advocate Good Shepherd Hospital. “For these women, preeclampsia can serve as a warning, allowing them to take measures to reduce their risk for heart disease. Affected women, would become eligible for preventive and more aggresive therapies at an earlier age than usual.”
During a normal, healthy pregnancy, preeclampsia can cause:
- insulin resistance
- increased cholesterol
- increased risk of blood clots
Dr. Staicu explains these are exaggerated in women with preeclampsia and some are features of the metabolic syndrome – a known risk factor for cardiovascular disease.
The American Heart Association recommends that women who have had preeclampsia:
- Stop smoking
- Follow a heart healthy diet (i.e. DASH diet)
- Engage in regular physical activity
- Reach and maintain a healthy weight
“Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death among women yet women have more heart attacks that go unrecognized with worse outcomes than men,” says Dr. Staicu. “Women are caregivers so we often don’t take the necessary time to take care of ourselves. The symptoms of a heart attack can be more subtle in women so we all need to be more aware of our own health.”
Dr. Staicu suggests patients take an informed and active step in preventing heart disease because preventing a disease is always better than treating the disease after it occurred.
If you had preeclampsia with a pregnancy, speak to your internist about your risk for heart disease and to learn more about decreasing your risk of heart disease.
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